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You can shine!

22 September, 2011

Lloyd Bracken works with CEIST (Catholic Education an Irish Schools Trust), the trustee body for the schools run by the Daughters of Charity, Presentation Sisters, Sisters of the Christian Retreat, Sisters of Mercy, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.


‘I am the Light of the world’

The light of the faith is no ordinary ESB generated light. It is a light that allows us see ourselves in our own true light, as we really are. This suggests that there is a ‘me’ that is real and authentic and when I am not being this real authentic me I am then an aberration of my true self, something false, something bréagach. Máirtín Ó’Direáin had a strong sense of this falseness in his term ‘Corpán ar Chosa’ (Gadscaoileadh). By this he meant being a sort of carcass that walks about but devoid of spirit and soul, resonating with St James (2:24), ‘For the body without the spirit is dead’.

Pushing the idea even further, a doll for instance can look like a human being with a face, a fine head of hair, arms and legs, a wardrobe of clothes.  The manufacturers of dolls are even trying to make them more and more human drawing tears and scowls from the life-like ‘babies’. But a doll will always be a bréagán, something bréagach. We are not dolls. We are a weave of body, mind, soul and consciousness, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, woven by the divine weaver; ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139). We are a complex and wonderful creature. We are the thinking species par excellance. We are children of the Light not of the dark. We are children of God.

God is not ‘The Man above’ as we often hear people say. We live within God. The trick is to allow Him to break not so much in but out. When the Saints caught this message they went crazy with excitement.

Running through the streets of Genoa, St Catherine startled the shoppers by shouting with delight ‘My deepest me is God’. Isn’t that amazing? St Francis was on the same personal track realising that he was, as we are, intimately linked to God. It is said that he spent all day and all night just asking the following question, ‘Who am I? Who are You?’ Thomas Merton arrived at this exciting place too. He shouts, ‘Make ready for Christ, whose smile, like lightning, sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps, in your paper flesh, like dynamite’. 

Deepak Chopra, too, is in line with Ó’Direáin and St. James. Deepak was a doctor. He became disenchanted with the way medicine viewed the person. He has referred to his life at the time as “crushing” – he chain-smoked, drank scotch to cope with the stress, and became increasingly fed up of treating patients as “machines with parts wearing out”. He has said in previous interviews that he felt like a licensed drug-pusher.

And yet, he writes in Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul , “every one of these people lived lives that had nothing to do with machines breaking down and needing repair”.

“These lives were full of meaning and hope, emotions and aspirations, love and suffering.

“Machines don’t lead such lives. Before long I began to see that the body as seen through the lens of science was inadequate and artificial.” (The Irish Times: 18 May 2010) So, there is something more to us humans than meets the eye. Would it have anything to do with what sustains our very being?

We are not human beings that have occasional spiritual experiences, but rather spiritual beings having a human experience.

“In Christian theology,” Deepak says, “it talks about being in the world but not of it. Our spiritual nature is eternal and transcendent. It exists outside of space time.”

“What I discovered is that a shift in consciousness can lead to a shift in biology.

“If you are stressed, the cells in your body reflect that. We ignored the impact on the body of the states of consciousness we call holiness, love, compassion, joy or just plain happiness.

“It’s only in the past 10 to 15 years that research has shown that when a person is in love, their biology is different” (The Irish Times).

So there is a link between our consciousness and divinity. God sustains all of existence. The poet Hopkins caught this when he said the ‘The universe is charged with the glory of God’.

A Hindu proverb captures this link; ‘consciousness shines with a light from beyond itself’. So we should never feel we are abandoned to the dark. God is always with us. Remember Zecharia’s statement of faith, ‘He will give light to those in darkness’ (Lk 1:79). Have you ever noticed that even when we are not with another person we are constantly speaking to Someone. We are never alone. Christ is this someone, the light of the world. It is this divine light that sustains us. It is this same light that created the universe. Christ, the light of the world, will never go out as a candle does. Christ is the source of our light. Christ’s light is always switched on especially every time we are in a creative space in our heads, in our music, our sport, our art, in our poetry and story but most especially in our relationships. The source of this light is Christ.

‘In him was life, and the life was the light of people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (Jn 1:1-9).

To be truly human then is to walk in this light. This is what is meant by being spiritually enlightened. To be enlightened spiritually, one must find the light, believe in the light, come to the light, put on the armour of light, and walk in the light. Love and Light created the Universe. Love is the light that the Gospels tell us about. Jesus is love. God is love. The Father created out of love.

Faith in God presupposes love. Being a person of faith is being a person of the Light and Love. Love is the only reality. The song from the musical Oliver Twist comes to mind at this point, ‘Where is love? Does it fall from skies above? …Where is she who I close my eyes to see?’ So where do we see this spiritual light? It is love that truly brightens up our otherwise dark lives. As the song says,

‘Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone’.

Oliver has it right. Love is his mother. St. Ireneus understood the heart of a mother when he said, paraphrasing, ‘All the best theology is written into the heart of a mother’. Through the humanity of our mothers we meet the divine hug and kiss but also His/Her loving correction. ‘Thou shalt not…’ What Mom wants for us is exactly what Jesus wants for us. That is, to be loving and lovable, happy and free, responsible and useful.

Love is at its most brilliant through the transcendent humanity of people. It was Jesus who demonstrated that one can be human and divine at the same time. All God’s divinity was present in Jesus’ humanity (2 Cor 5:19). What a mystery this suggests! How can one possibly get all that unlimited and infinite divinity into limited and finite humanity? You need only look at your mother to know that this is possible. Nobody loves like a mother. Mothers are divinised by their amazing love. Just consider for a moment all of what our mothers have done for us. It is breath taking to say the least.

Being human our version of love fluctuates up and down like the red fluid on the barometer. This is simply how it is for us. It is neither sad nor bad that this is the case. It must be part of God’s plan really when he created us. For us love is something to strive for constantly. It must be worked at. Love is a daily decision of commitment to our deepest values. This is the nuts and bolts of a real life. When we love, though our love is a muddling one, we are in step with the great Lover of lovers.

Thankfully, He knows us and walks with us at our pace till we are fit enough to stride at his. Have you ever noticed how your dog wants to pull you at his pace initially, but, out of love for you will adapt and slow to your rhythm? God does this too. The poem Footprints in the sand comes to mind.

Our love is mercurial by contrast to God’s. Have you ever noticed that your spark, your passion for life, can waver from time to time, when you have lost the zest for life? How did you ever get it back?

Albert Schweitzer understood this and he also grasped the answer when he said, ‘In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out, but it is burst into flame again by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle our inner spirit’
Leo Buscaglia endorses this view when he says, ‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential of turning a life around’.

The retrieving of the true self and the rekindling of the spark for life is captured in numerous films, like, A Good Year, About the Boy, Bucket List, and Phone Booth and so on. The Sunday Independent Supplement caught it crisply in the heading ‘Colin Farrell – back on track’. It suggests what we all innately know. There is a metaphorical track that we all need to be on if we are to be happy. Only this track allows me be true to myself and to others. When I’m on this track I am fulfilled, have great relationships, work at a meaningful job and make a contribution to others. On this track I can put the spark back in to a person’s life.  On this track I shine brightly.

A dimmer switch functions in two simple ways, to dim and to brighten. It is our individual choice either to dim or to brighten, to be an agent of the dark or an agent of the light. Schools too act as dimmer switches that want to brighten, not darken, the potential of a child. Schools are an encyclopaedia of stories of transformation that testify to its efforts, small and great, to brighten the life of a child. It is moving to hear these amazing stories when teachers are in a reflective mood. These same stories are etched on to the faces of the students that smile back at you from the photo displays from the walls of the school corridors. The stories beam with the light of joy, of learning and teaching, of achievement, and, of course, of friendship.

I recently came across an amazing Youtube clip called Pantene Ad ‘You can shine’: It captures all of the above. This is the story.

A deaf girl wants to do the seemingly impossible, something already achieved by Beethoven. She wants to be a musician and play the violin. The young student is influenced by a street performer who does sign language.

The journey is not easy. Her class mates tell her she is crazy. They shout at her with questions that destroy her confidence, ‘Can a duck sing?’, ‘Can a deaf person play the violin?’ They are very tough on her and reject her and ridicule her brave efforts. 

One day she is among a large gathering watching and listening (not she) to a street performer. At the end of his performance he receives a great applause. He recognises her when all the rest have dispersed. He signs, ‘Are you still playing the violin?’ His interest in her is too much in the context of all the rejection she is enduring. She breaks down and cries bitter tears. They talk while sitting on the pavement reminding us of what St. Augustine said, ‘I have learned more from those who talked to me than from those who have taught me’. She shares her heart.

In her pain she asks, ‘Why am I different from others?’ He responds wisely, and compassionately, turning her question up-side-down making her embrace an alternative perspective, one that ignites a passion to fulfil her dream, ‘Why do you have to be like others?’ ‘Music’ he says, ‘is a visual thing. You can see it when you close your eyes.’

She joins her street mentor after that playing music for passers by safe in his company where she can grow. Even this joy is violently disrupted when a street gang beat the musician up and smash the girl’s violin into pieces off the pavement. Her mentor ends up in hospital. Surely her dreams, like her violin, are now completely and utterly in ruins.

It doesn’t end here. Her spirit is now too strong to be snuffed out just like that. She enters a competition. She is the last one to be called up. She plays with all the pain and passion that define her struggle to be happy. She simply amazes the audience with her performance. She shines.

‘Don’t let anything obscure your light’. Many things will try especially fear, fear of one thing or another. When you discover your true self, fear will cease to have any grip on your life. ‘Do not be afraid’ appears 366 times in the bible. So God is definitely on the side of the true self. God offers his only Son as our Way, our truth and our Life. 

Hold on to Faith in Jesus, Hope in Jesus and Love of Jesus despite all the odds. Faith, hope and love are three bulbs, though the one Light, that shine within you. You are an important part of the divine plan for a better world. Together you create creation.

Eckhart Tolle put it like this, ‘Your goal in life is to allow the divine purpose to unfold. This is how important you are’.

All of the good, the loving, the forgiving, the mercy, the sharing, the compassion, the humanity, you do is just that, the allowing of the divine purpose to unfold.

Nelson Mandela caught this wisdom when he quoted Marianne Williamson’s amazing poem:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate;
Our deepest fear is that we are
powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be
brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about
Shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are born to make manifest the
glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us,
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our light shine,
We unconsciously give other
people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fears,
Our presence automatically liberates others.